First Posted: 10/2/2014
Life has been disrupted in recent weeks in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The barbaric act and subsequent manhunt for alleged cop killer Eric Frein has put our normally peaceful community on high alert.
As adults, we are scared and acting in hyper-vigilant ways. Watching the news videos of camouflaged SWAT teams strolling through yards not far from ours, we struggle to manage our own fear for our families. Seeing news clips of the funeral procession of the young trooper, we are moved to tears at the sight of his lovely young widow, his son wearing daddy’s uniform hat and the thousands of law enforcement officers marching down the streets of Scranton in his honor.
At a time like this, we struggle to handle our very intense emotions and take the correct precautions to protect our families, while also considering how all of this is affecting our children.
The first few nights after the attack on the state troopers, my middle-schoolers, old enough to understand, asked to sleep in my room. At that point, a suspect had not been identified and all we knew was that a “bad guy” was on the loose. Once we learned his name and the location of the search, my kids wanted to know, in detail, exactly how far away that was from our house. I emphasized the message from state police leaders that he was after law enforcement, not civilians, in an attempt to help them feel safe. Meanwhile, I was actually thinking that any homeowner, dog walker, hiker or hunter unlucky enough to happen upon this man was indeed in grave danger.
Friends shared their struggles to soothe their children while still being truthful with them.
“My kids were wondering what the suspect looked like so I showed them his picture. They were shocked because he looked like a regular, nice guy. Lesson learned kids; not all bad guys look bad.”
I always shield my son from this kind of stuff but it has been hard to not tell him. All the kids are talking about it.
I went back to some advice I had picked up after the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. Experts tell us it’s a good idea to ask your children what they have heard, to open the dialogue and to clarify any misperceptions. In the event they haven’t heard, we’re told to explain it in simplest terms, giving them only what they need to know. It’s crucial to explain to them that they are safe, as well as what is being done to the catch the killer. Our children are completely dependent on us for security and need to know their parents and the police are there to protect them.
It’s best to limit our watching of the scary news when the kids are around. The repeated images can make the situation seem even closer than it is. In addition, discussions should be age-appropriate. Very young children are usually worried about their safety and about their loved ones. Older children may have more questions and sometimes we have to admit that we don’t have all the answers, especially to why these things happen.
We can tell them that we don’t know why someone did this, but that we are sad, too, and that it’s okay to feel sad and scared. They need to know that we are here for them. If they express anger, another normal reaction to such an atrocity, we can encourage them to direct that emotion in a positive way, to think of ways to help people, now or when they grow up.
After a week of seeing the suspect’s face constantly, my 2-year-old, Sarah, surprised me as we passed one of the billboards with the WANTED poster on it.
“Who dat man, mommy?” she asked.
“That’s a bad man, Sarah,” was all I could think to say. But then, quick to ease the concern on her tiny face, I went on. “Don’t worry, all the good guys are looking for him, and mommy and daddy will protect you. There are some bad people in the world, but mostly good,” I went on. “Most people love and help.”
It was then that I remembered the words of the very wise Mr. Fred Rogers, one of the constant, soothing voices of my childhood.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”